The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom by Lita Judge

Published by Roaring Brook Press

The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom:  Judge, Lita: 9781250237071: Amazon.com: Books
The Wisdom of Trees | Lita Judge | Macmillan

Summary:  Each two-page spread has a watercolor illustration of the tree in its natural habitat with animals that live in or near it, a free-verse poem, and several paragraphs of information about the tree.  The “wisdom” aspect of trees is emphasized, showing the remarkable ways trees defend themselves, maintain Earth’s balance, and even communicate with each other.  Includes an author’s note; additional information about each tree in the book and the future of forests; how to help forests; glossary; and sources.  48 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This gorgeous science book has some pretty mind-blowing information about trees that scientists are just beginning to discover.  It certainly gave me a new appreciation for trees, and it will undoubtedly have the same effect on younger readers.

Cons:  It will take a pretty dedicated tree enthusiast to get through the entire book. But the good news is, if this tree book doesn’t grab you, there are a couple dozen more to choose from this year.

The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng

Published by Clarion Books

The One Thing You'd Save: Park, Linda Sue, Sae-Heng, Robert: 9781328515131:  Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  “Imagine your house is on fire.  You’re allowed to save one thing.  Your family and pets are safe, so don’t worry about them.”  With this assignment, a class starts thinking about what’s important to them: a handknit sweater, a photo, a lock of hair, a collection.  The kids express themselves in poems inspired by the ancient Korean poetry form sijo.  Their presentations spark comments and debate among their classmates as they contemplate what they value…and even get their teacher to change her mind.  72 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Not quite long enough to be a novel in verse, this illustrated collection of poems is easy to read, but not simple, and will surely engage students in conversation long after they’ve turned the last page.  I loved Linda Sue Park’s final statement in her author’s note about sijo: “Using old forms in new ways is how poetry continually renews itself, and the world.”

Cons:  It would have been helpful to have the speaker in each poem identified.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

Amazon.com: Starfish (9781984814500): Fipps, Lisa: Books

Summary:  Eleven-year-old Ellie has been bullied about her size for many years–by her classmates, her brother, and her mother, who is pushing her to have bariatric surgery.  Things get worse when her best friend moves away the summer before sixth grade, and Ellie has to face middle school alone.  Fortunately, a new girl next door becomes a friend, and Ellie’s sympathetic dad takes her to a therapist who helps her explore her emotions and learn to stand up for herself.  It’s clear there’s still a lot of work to do for Ellie’s family, but by the end she is feeling empowered to confront some of the bullies and to stop hiding who she really is.  Includes a brief author’s note explaining how she based Ellie’s bullying on her own experiences.  256 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  I inhaled this novel in verse in a single sitting and can’t wait to share it with students at my school.  I commend Nancy Paulsen (mentioned in the author’s acknowledgements) for seeing this as a middle grade book instead of YA.  I think it will be a story that many fifth, sixth and seventh graders will take to heart and that will be invaluable to them as they navigate middle school and body image issues.

Cons: As much as I loved the verse format, I think its brevity made some of the work done in therapy seem a little quick and easy. 

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Published by Heartdrum

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids: Cynthia Leitich Smith:  9780062869944: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Kids from all over the United States and Canada come together for the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor Michigan in this anthology of short stories by different Native authors.  Whether the kids are regulars on the powwow circuit or attending for the first time, they appreciate being part of their community as they dance, help out in the vendor booths, and hang out with friends and family.  The sixteen stories are bookended by poems: “What Is a Powwow?” serves as an introduction and “Circles” concludes the book, followed by a glossary of words from each poem or story (in different Native languages); notes and acknowledgements from each writer; and brief biographies of all the contributors.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Since starting this blog in 2015, I’ve struggled to find books about contemporary Native life, so I’m delighted with this collection about many kids’ experiences by so many different authors.  The stories are both funny and touching and would make excellent additions to any upper elementary or middle school ELA curriculum.  I actually attended the Ann Arbor powwow in 1987, and reading this book made me want to go back.

Cons:  The stories were interconnected, so characters from one story often showed up in another, but there were so many I had trouble keeping track (except for the dog wearing the Ancestor Approved t-shirt–I always recognized him). 

The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics by Susan Hood, illustrated by Christiane Engel

Published by HarperCollins

The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics: Hood, Susan, Engel, Christiane:  9780062981394: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Following an introduction by 9-year-old Milo Cress, founder of Be Straw Free, this poetry collection looks at different aspects of plastic, from its undeniable usefulness in many areas to the damage it is wreaking on the environment (especially the oceans) to different ways kids and teens are figuring out to recycle and find alternatives to plastic.  Includes a two-page author’s note; a timeline of the history of plastic from 1839; alternatives to single-use plastic items; top ten plastic ocean polluters; sources, websites, and additional notes for each poem; poetry notes for each poem; three books for further reading; and additional websites for news about plastics.  48 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  The poetry is just the beginning in this book that is jam-packed with information and inspiring stories about kids working to make a difference in the world by recycling or eliminating plastics.  The colorful illustrators add a lot to the poems, and the 13 pages of back matter, enough to satisfy even me, would make this an excellent resource for older kids.

Cons:  I was feeling so bummed after reading the first few poems that I almost didn’t make it to the more inspirational section.

Hello, Earth! Poems to Our Planet by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Image result for hello earth joyce sidman
Image result for hello earth joyce sidman

Summary:  Newbery Honor poet Joyce Sidman explores different aspects of Earth in these poems addressed to the planet itself.  There’s a sense of wonder, “How can we be here, climbing trees, walking paths, staring up at constellations…and also out in deepest space?”  There are poems about volcanoes, earthquakes, jungles, and mountains.  Taken together, the poems are a love letter to Earth, and a promise to take care of the planet.  Includes six pages of additional information about each topic addressed; resources about climate change, ways kids can help, and citizen science projects; and a list of books for further reading.  68 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This beautifully illustrated book of poems celebrates Earth and many aspects of earth science.  The poems and illustrations are accessible to kids in primary grades, and the extensive back matter makes it useful for older kids to explore further.

Cons:  Earth doesn’t seem to have any answers for all the questions.

12 books of Christmas

Starting the day after Christmas, I’ll be posting my year-end lists of Caldecott and Newbery predictions and my favorite books in different categories. I found myself with an higher-than-usual number of books at the end of the year that I had wanted to review, but didn’t get to before time ran out. That number turned out to be twelve, so as a little Christmas gift, here is a list of my final dozen books for 2020.

Tani’s New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America by Tanitoluwa Adewumi, illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Published by Thomas Nelson

Tani's New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America: Adewumi,  Tanitoluwa, Dawson, Courtney: 9781400218288: Amazon.com: Books

The true story of Tani Adewumi, who moved to New York City as a Nigerian refugee at the age of 6. He discovered chess, and practiced it for hours in a homeless shelter. In less than a year, he was the New York State Chess Champion. I haven’t had a chance to see this book. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is a Christian publisher, so I’m not sure if there is any religious content to the story. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5 by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Louisa Uribe

Published by HarperCollins

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5: Dealey, Erin, Uribe, Luisa:  9780062915320: Amazon.com: Books

The kids in room 5 begin a correspondence with Earth, learning different ways to help the planet like recycling and energy conservation. Rhyming text, letter writing, and environmental tips make this an appealing choice for Earth Day or any time of year. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Saving Stella: A Dog’s Dramatic Escape from War by Bassel Abou Fakher and Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Nadine Kaadan

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Saving Stella: A Dog's Dramatic Escape from War: Fakher, Bassel Abou,  Blumenthal, Deborah, Kaadan, Nadine: 9781547601332: Amazon.com: Books

When Bassel was forced to flee Syria, he had to leave his beloved dog Stella behind. After settling in a new home in Belgium, he worked with friends back in Syria to create a daring plan to rescue Stella. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Rabbit, Raven, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler, illustrated by Jennifer Faria

Published by Pajama Press

Raven, Rabbit, Deer: Farrell Holler, Sue, Faria, Jennifer: 9781772781366:  Amazon.com: Books

There’s a copy of this book traveling to my library right now, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see it. A boy and his grandfather enjoy a winter’s day together, finding animal tracks and identifying the animals in both English and Ojibwemowin. Sounds like a cozy winter choice. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

When You Trap a Tiger: Keller, Tae: 9781524715717: Amazon.com: Books

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, Lily meets a tiger straight out of the Korean folklore she’s grown up on. This book won a Boston Globe/Horn Book honor and received five starred reviews. Personally, I couldn’t really get into it and only read about the first third back in the beginning of the year. Everyone else loved it, though, and it could definitely be a contender for more awards. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky

Published by Kokila

Antiracist Baby Board Book: Kendi, Ibram X., Lukashevsky, Ashley:  9780593110416: Amazon.com: Books

Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist is #15 on Amazon’s list of 2020’s bestsellers. Here he offers nine tips for being (or raising) an antiracist baby, with a note to parents and teachers at the end. Available as both a board book and a regular picture book. 32 pages; ages 0-4.

Woodpecker Girl by Chingyen Liu and I-Tsun Chiang, illustrated by Heidi Doll

Published by Reycraft Books

Woodpecker Girl: Chiang, I-Tsun, Liu, Chingyen: 9781478869559: Amazon.com:  Books

A girl with cerebral palsy tells how she learned to paint with a brush strapped to her forehead. An amazing gallery of her work is included. Told in the first person, the story doesn’t shy away from the challenges she faces and the discouragement she feels, but also expresses her joy at sharing with others through her art. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

Published by Greenwillow Books

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems: Nye, Naomi Shihab:  9780063013452: Amazon.com: Books

I just got this book on December 23, so haven’t had a chance to read it. These 100 poems by Young People’s Poet Laureate Nye start with a section of poems on childhood, both her own and others. She also explores her Palestinian heritage and the need for peace, as well as an appreciation for the diversity of people in the world. 256 pages; grades 3-7.

Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park

Published by Chronicle Books

Unstoppable: (Family Read-Aloud book, Silly Book About Cooperation) -  Kindle edition by Rex, Adam, Park, Laura. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon .com.

A crow being pursued by a hungry cat and a crab who dreams of flying work together to help one another. When they add a turtle and a bear, they become UNSTOPPABLE! At least until they see a bulldozer digging up the lakefront to build a mall. Then it’s off to see the President of the United States…and Congress…and things really get zany as only Adam Rex can imagine them. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust: Memories of a Refugee Childhood  (9780374313715): Shulevitz, Uri: Books - Amazon.com

Caldecott Medalist Uri Shulevitz’s memoir covers his childhood from his days in Warsaw at the start of World War II to his family’s harrowing experiences in the Soviet Union during the war and their postwar years in Paris before emigrating to Paris when he was 14. Although it’s a thick book, the print is large and filled with Shulevitz’s illustrations, making it a quick and engaging read. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa

Published by Barefoot Books

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India: Sriram, Meera, Cabassa, Mariona:  9781646860616: Amazon.com: Books

Another one I haven’t gotten to see, but I love the brilliant colors of the cover (and pictures I’ve seen of the illustrations). A girl shops in an Indian market to find the perfect gift for her mother. 32 pages; ages 4-7.

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell

Published by Charlesbridge

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire: Tunnell, Michael  O.: 9781580897891: Amazon.com: Books

When Mae Yanagi was eight years old, she and her family were forced to move to Topaz Camp in Utah for the duration of World War II. She and her third-grade classmates created a diary of their daily lives in camp, filled with mundane details about school and family life, as well as descriptions of the difficulties of camp life. Michael Tunnell tells their story with plenty of photographs and excerpts from the diary. 144 pages; grades 4-7.

A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis

Published by Neal Porter Books

Amazon.com: A New Green Day (9780823444885): Portis, Antoinette: Books
Antoinette Portis on A New Green Day | The TeachingBooks Blog

Summary:  “Morning lays me on your pillow,/an invitation, square and warm./Come out and play!” So begins the day for the girl shown in the book.  Turn the page and you’ll see this poem was said by the sunlight.  On the facing page is another poem.  Each spread has this format: the answer to the previous poem and another riddle.  The speakers are animals (a snail, a tadpole); things (a pebble, mud), and weather (clouds, thunder).  Day turns into night, and the final voice speaks: “I am the engine/of the summer dark./Sleep, while I thrum/in your tomorrow.”  It’s a cricket…and a green new day.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  This book has been on my radar for months now, and I am delighted to have finally seen it.  It’s deceptively small and simple, but, like many of Antoinette Portis’s books, makes you want to slow down and notice all the little miracles in nature.  Both the poems and the illustrations are beautifully crafted, and can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages.  Portis won a Sibert honor last year for Hey, Water!.  Maybe one of these years she will receive a well-deserved Caldecott.

Cons:  At first I thought this might be a fun book to have kids guess who was saying each poem, but I think some would be too tricky for younger kids (they were too tricky for me).

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry, illustrated by Kenard Pak

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

On the Horizon: Lowry, Lois, Pak, Kenard: 9780358129400: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Lois Lowry lived in both Hawaii and Japan as a child, and her poems here reflect some of her experiences in those two countries during World War II.  The bulk of the poetry, though, relates personal stories, both of people aboard the Arizona and those living in Hiroshima.  The poems are written in a variety of styles, and most are accompanied by an illustration.  Includes an author’s note telling of her experiences that influenced this book.  Most remarkable is her interaction with a Japanese boy named Koichi Seii, who moved to the U.S. as an adult and changed his name to Allen Say, becoming an award-winning illustrator and Lowry’s friend.  Aso includes a bibliography.  80 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  By focusing on individuals (many of them children or young adults), Lowry really personalizes the tragedy of war.  The details may be too sad or disturbing for younger kids, but middle school students will find a lot to discuss in these poems.

Cons:  I wish there had been some information about the different forms of poetry used.

Wild Symphony by Dan Brown, illustrated by Susan Batori

Published by Rodale Kids

Wild Symphony: Brown, Dan, Batori, Susan: 9780593123843: Amazon.com: Books
Wild Symphony: Brown, Dan, Batori, Susan: 9780593123843: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Maestro Mouse is your guide through this musical romp starring the animal kingdom.  Each page includes a poem or two about the featured animal, concluding with a sign held by Maestro Mouse offering a lesson that can be derived from the poem.  Sharp-eyed readers will also spot letters in each picture that, when put together, spell out a word.  The animals and words come together in the final gatefold page that shows all the animals playing music in an orchestra.  Includes an author’s note from Dan Brown (yes, that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and many other books for adults) and endpapers showing and identifying the different musical instruments.  Also includes an app that can be downloaded to listen to musical accompaniment throughout the story.  44 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  A fun introduction to both animals and musical instruments.  I did not download the app, but it sounds like an enjoyable way to experience the music introduced in the book.  The hidden letters and coded words will please those who like puzzles.

Cons:  Poems, a series of (didactic) lessons, musical instruments, hidden letters, word scrambles, and an app that plays music…felt like a bit too much to unpack for one picture book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.